John Sarro, Former Delaware Priest Accused of Child Rape, Pleads Not Guilty
By Xerxes Wilson
February 9, 2018
|John A. Sarro|
John Sarro, a former priest with the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, on Friday pleaded not guilty to charges that he raped a pre-teen girl in the '90s.
Sarro, 76, is charged with first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and second-degree unlawful sexual contact. He is accused of fondling and raping a girl who court documents said was less than 16 years old between 1991 and 1994 when the abuse is said to have occurred. He was a pastor at St. Helena Parish in Bellefonte at the time.
On Friday, his first court appearance in Delaware, he spoke briefly from a wheelchair only to tell the judge that he has to tell the management of his assisted living home when he is coming or going. After entering his plea, he was assigned a public defender and allowed to leave.
Superior Court Commissioner Bradley V. Manning stated that he doesn't believe the former priest is a flight risk or danger to society. Sarro was instructed that he is to have no contact with minors and may only leave his assisted-living residence in Elkton, Maryland, for emergencies.
He is due back in court in March.
"This case is not usual by any means," Manning said.
The case marks the first time the state has brought sex abuse or molestation charges against a Delaware Catholic priest.
It comes eight years after the local diocese was forced into bankruptcy by sprawling civil litigation filed by some 150 survivors of priest abuse. The litigation led to more than $70 million in payouts by the local diocese.
Sarro was not included in that litigation but he was identified by diocese officials in 2006 as one of 20 local priests with "admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated" allegations of sexual abuse of minors against them. That distinction came from an accusation of abuse in the '80s while he was a missionary in Papua New Guinea.
Sarro, a Delaware native, was ordained in 1979 and did mission service through 1983 when he began work at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bear. In 1990, he began his work at St. Helena in Bellefonte before being "removed from the ministry" in 1998.
|St. Helena Roman Catholic Church in Bellefonte. (Photo: Suchat Pederson, The News Journal-USA TODAY NETWORK)|
In 2011, the diocese was notified of abuse allegations stemming from his time at St. Helena. Diocese officials said the adult survivor at the time declined permission for them to report the allegation to police.
He was indicted on the charges earlier this month. Specifics of his connection to the alleged victim have not been detailed in court documents.
Reached by phone earlier this month, Sarro said the conduct that led to the current allegations was a "misunderstanding" and an "accident."
Contact Xerxes Wilson at (302) 324-2787 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Ber_Xerxes on Twitter.